Totally Awkward Tuesdays

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One of the most awkward moments in my life was Match Day.

Match day is the day that medical students all over the country find out where/if they are going to complete there residency training. I say if because you are not guaranteed to match into a spot.

I used to think that finding a residency position was like finding a job NOT SO. You apply at different places and they decide where they want to interview you. Then you put together your "rank" list and they put together theirs. Then on Match Day this big computer spits out where you got matched too. This is based on where the programs you ranked, ranked you and other applicants, etc, etc.

Some people trying to get into really competitive programs rank more than one type of residency just in case they don't make it into the tough one. (For example general surgery also ranks internal medicine or family medicine). People also rank quite a few programs so that they are sure to get into a program.

So day one of the match process you get an email at noon that says "congratulations you have been successfully match" or "Unfortunately you were not matched to a program". If you are not matched you then head to the school where they have a war room set up and a list of all of the programs in the country that did not fill all of their spots. Then you proceed to "scramble" (they actually call it that it is not something I made up) into a spot (which could be anywhere doing who knows what). This is not good so you breath a sigh of relief to get the congrats email.

Day 2

Each school/program celebrates match day differently. This is what Kansas University does.

When you get there all of the family and friends head to the auditorium. The med school grads go to get pictures taken and put $5 in the pot for the person who goes last. At the start of the ceremony each student alphabetically goes and pulls a number from a bowel. Bret's number was 26 (there were 45 students in his class). I thought this was a good number because it was right in the middle. Then right before they started they brought out a second bowel with more numbers in it. Yep they were going to randomly draw numbers to determine who was going to go first.

This ceremony was the most awkward and tense ordeal I have ever sat through. I should tell you that for us the reason it was so tense was because although we were fairly certain that we were going to match to the Wichita program (where we were living at the time) Bret had ranked several other programs all over the country. I (yes naive I know) adamantly didn't want to move and had I thought that the possiblity of us not getting our first choice was that real I would never have agreed to the other programs. Bret really liked the PA program and if he had not been married to me it would have been his first choice but instead it was his second choice.

So one at a time a number was drawn. That person headed to the front of the auditorium where there was a power point behind them. They were handed an envelop and as they opened the envelope the name of their program and which type of residency they matched into flashed up behind them.

People standing in front of a death squad looked more relaxed than these people going up to the front. It was their entire future being decided for all of the world to see. Some people were excited some were shocked and there were some that were heartbreakingly disappointed. People's hands shook, tears sometimes ran down their cheeks, some said the program they were thinking rather than what was on the piece of paper on accident, and some were so thrilled that they hollered for joy.

Everytime they called a number that started with twenty I felt myself tense. My stomach was doing back flips and all I kept telling myself was "don't cry, don't throw up". It was my mantra. Finally Bret's number got called and he went to the front of the room. He took the envelope and opened it. Before he said anything he looked up and directly at me. I knew in that flash of a second that we were moving to PA. I knew this because he looked at me to see my reaction and because I could see in his eyes that he was torn between thrilled to be matched to such a great/competitive program and heartbroken because he knew how hard it would be for me to move so far from home. It was at that moment...when he announced where we going that I felt the awkwardness creep in.

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach but I wanted was for everyone to see how proud and happy I was for Bret. This was his day. He had worked so hard for it and although I knew (or at least I thought I knew) how hard it was going to be really hard to move so far way with our two little babies I wanted him to have the moment he had waited for so long. Every eye in the room look to the family present to find out if the news was good or not. Sometimes the residents were more obvious in their reaction than others but for the most part it was the family that showed the true emotions. Mothers cried, spouses jumped out of their seats, and others just gave the "it's going to be OK" smile that we all recognize. Determined to give better than that I actually gave a toothy grin and blinked back the tears that kept threatening their way out. I didn't want people to think for a second that this wasn't an awesome program lucky to have Bret because it is and they are.

After everyone opened their envelopes all I wanted to do was go home and lie down (in my defense I had a 9 week old baby and was recovering from a c-section too not to mention my 2 and 1/2 year old that was starting to get restless) but instead we had a dinner to go to, lots of congratulations to receive, and the burden of figuring out how to tell our family. The last of the three was already prepared for. We had decided to tell everyone at once before we even knew. It happened that everything fell the week before St. Patty's day so we planned a huge party that Saturday to announce to everyone. I was really glad because if I had to call anyone that day I would have lost it completely.

Two years later things are good. I still don't really like the fact that you find out in front of everyone (for the record you don't have to participate) but it is a rite of passage. During interview dinners I have talked to a lot of spouses about the looming Match Day and I can see them where I was at too. It is nice to be able to reassure people that they too will get through it and hopefully be able to celebrate the accomplishments they have made.

I feel strongly that although my husband was the one to sit through the classes and is the actual one with the MD behind his name I worked just as hard. I am lucky that Bret sees that too. There were times that he would not have made it if it weren't for me (not to mention probably starve). Seeing him graduate made me proud of him but also of us. We made it just like I know we will make it through residency too.


Julia@SometimesLucid said...

Wow! What a poignent and well written memory. I felt like I was right there with you.

Jules said...

I, too, am the wife of a Hawk Doc (KC campus) and remember well where I was on Match Day. My husband so wanted to move to Minnesota, I was more partial to Florida (we had no kids at the time), but we ended up staying in KC for residency before uprooting our little family we had quickly created and moving out of town. Like you, that move was the best thing that could have happened to us, although I dreaded it!!
Good for you for keeping it together with hormones and all!!

Tova Darling said...

Augh! I am SO nervous about match day! The rank list is due tomorrow, and we're in total agreement about numbers one and two, but we're having a slight difference of opinion on the order of the programs that will be 3-5. Hopefully we'll get numbers one or two so it doesn't matter what our other choices were. :)